The first 10-15 minutes of every yoga class are spent warming up. This consists of a sequence of exercises and postures that get your body ready for more challenging poses during the hour. Warming up the body comes with a number of benefits that make it an important part of a session.
Why should you warm up your body before yoga?
Gets you ready
Warming up your body will awaken, activate and open up sleeping muscles and joints. It will prepare your body for a range of movements during the session. It will encourage circulation and improve blood flow, loosen up joints, release tension and increase mobility.
Reduces the risk of injury
Since it prepares your body, your muscles will no longer be cold and tense. If you jump straight into yoga asanas or deep, challenging postures, there is a risk of injury.
Centers your mind
Centering and slowly starting with gentle stretches, gets your mind ready for the practice ahead. It connects your mind, body and breath, and allows for better coordination between all three during the practice. It also brings you into the present moment, allowing you to let go of external stressors and tensions of the day.
Improves your practice
The more open and warmed up your body is, the better your practice. You will be able to coordinate movements, be more aware of alignments, and you’ll find it easier to achieve deep stretches and yoga asanas. You’ll find a greater balance between muscle groups and systems.
Exercises to warm up for yoga
This can be done sitting or standing. It can also be done in Ujjayi or Oceans breath. It essentially involves sitting still, bringing your complete attention to your breath and taking 3-5 conscious, deep breaths.
First look over your right shoulder, then the left. Look only as far as it feels comfortable. Move slowly, coordinating your breath with the movement and with awareness. The second exercise you can do is bringing your left ear to your left shoulder. Take a breath here then repeat on the other side. Thirdly, you can do gentle neck rotations. Start with clockwise and then anti-clockwise. Once again, coordinate the movement with your breath, breathing in as you go up and breathing out as you come down.
Upper body warm up
Inhale and press your feet down as you stretch your arms up and out. Exhale and slowly release your hands back down, keeping your body soft and legs strong.
Stretch the hamstrings and back
On the last repetition of the upper body warm up, as you reach your arms up and out, hold your arms over your head for a breath. Press into your feet and reach up. Exhale and dive down into a forward fold, keeping your knees bent at first, easing your body slowly into the stretch. Inhale, reach your heart forward, extending the spine. Come up onto your fingertips or bring your hands to your knees, into a half standing forward bend. Exhale, drawing back down into a forward fold. Inhale, pressing your feet down as you come back up, stretching your arms back and up. Repeat this movement at least two times.
Sit comfortable and make a fist with your palms. Gentle start rotating your fists first in an outward direction and then in an inward direction. Repeat this about five times both ways.
Come into the cat-cow pose with your knees and palms on the mat. Inhale, lift your head up and arch your back, exhale, round the spine and look down. Repeat this a few times. You can also do a deep side body stretch. Coming into child’s pose, extend your arms out and walk them to the left slightly. Take your right hip and shoulder back. Inhale as you come back to the centre and repeat on the other side.
Yoga postures to warm up
Do a few rounds of Surya Namaskar at a medium pace. 8-12 rounds of Sun Salutations will stretch and release tightness from almost every part of the body.
Normally practiced in the eagle pose (Garudasana), you can do the eagle arms stretch while sitting in the easy pose (Sukhasana). This will stretch out the shoulders, upper back and arms.
Downward facing dog
While this posture will already be done in the Surya Namaskar series, you can do this separately as well, or as a movement between downward facing dog to plank and back. Stay in each position for a minute, taking deep breaths. This will stretch, strengthen and lengthen the back, legs and arms. It will also work on the core muscles.
This is a basic, beginner-friendly hip opener. From a seated position, bring your feet together and closer towards the body. Try to push the knees towards the mat. Grab the feet around the toes. You can also make the butterfly movement by moving the legs up and down.
Wide-legged side stretch
From a seated position, spread the legs out wide. Keeping your back straight, bend forward and try to grab your ankles or toes. You can also grab the calf muscles. Stretch, take deep breaths and try to pull yourself forward. Now from here, turn to the right, keep the back straight and take both hands and shoulders closer to grab the right ankle. Stretch as much as you can. Stay here for a few breaths and slowly come back to the center. Repeat this on the left side.
It is important to keep a few things in mind while warming up. If you have been active before the session, then your warm up should be longer and include more exercises. If you’re practicing in the morning, soon after waking up, then too, your warm-up should be longer. In the mornings, our bodies tend to be tight and even sore, so warming will help greatly. The more challenging the yoga routine, the more intense your warm-ups should be. Or, if you are working on achieving a specific asana, for example, the wheel pose (Chakrasana), then your warm-up should consist of more backbends and arm and shoulder exercises. Remember, if you have any trouble areas, like a sore shoulder or a tight back, do your warm-ups gently, but properly. Those areas should be given extra attention.
Warming up will not take long. That extra 15-minutes is, in fact, critical to your practice and will help you go a long way!